At the end of my essay Why Buy Art? we determined we buy it because it makes us happy. Still, for many people, buying original art has an air of exclusivity about it, something only people with a lot of money do. And buying original art from a living artist sounds mysteriously complicated, awkwardly uncomfortable, and even a little dangerous. Choosing artwork for your home is also not a chore or a short term project, nor should it be. You’re going to be looking at these things for a long time. If you’re well off enough to dine in fine restaurants, or go on vacations, you can probably afford most art being made today. If your idea of artwork is a print from Ikea that goes with your sofa, or even a World Series photo you printed off your computer, there is original artwork out there for you as well. Do not buy art as an investment, only very expensive artworks qualify, everything else is a lottery ticket with impossible odds at best. Buy for enjoyment. In a very real way, that World Series photo is actually closer to being a purely aesthetic artwork than a Rembrandt from Sothebys. Why? That Rembrandt is no longer just a great painting. It now serves a function beyond aesthetic enjoyment, as a place to park an enormous sum of cash, it is now a $50,000,000.00 bill. The baseball photo? It’s on your wall because you get a kick out of it.
Of course there are many ways to discover original artwork. The internet is brimming with art websites: Etsy, Saatchiart, Artspan, Artfinder, Artrepublic, etc. They are all recognized venues for artists to market their artwork. Many artists, like myself, actively sell via social media or from a personal website. That said, surfing the web is not what I’m talking about. This is boring. This is dull. If you buy online, your purchase will not look like what you saw on your computer. This is because looking at a painting on a monitor is like listening to a symphony on the telephone. On your computer screen, the image is roughly 5 x 7 inches, and back lit. There’s no texture, nothing tactile. Is it thick paint? Thin washes? Does your monitor show actual colors? You have to see the real thing to experience it, see it the way you’ll be living with it, the way the artist intended. Of course after you have experienced an artist’s work in real life, you’ll have a better sense of what their work online actually looks like.
If you have little experience looking at original art in person, I recommend starting at a great museum. Find what you are attracted to, what makes you look twice, what surprises you. What bores you. Do you like thick gloppy landscapes? Smooth, tightly rendered still lifes? Colorful geometric abstracts? Who doesn’t like nudes? This all takes time, and that’s a good thing. Next, venture to some art galleries. Go alone. Yes, some are annoyingly pretentious, others not at all, but don’t be put off. You’re there to look at the art and you are doing research. Smile and nod to the Gallerina at the desk, she’ll either be very helpful or ignore you, it doesn’t matter. Form opinions. The more art you see in person, the more comfortable you’ll be with them.
Ideally you should talk to artists, preferably in their studios. Contrary to popular culture, most of us are not crazy. Attend Open Studio events, look up artists on the web, visit their websites. Attracted to anything? Email the artist and ask for a studio visit. Most will be thrilled to show you their work. If they’re uneasy with a studio visit, they’ll let you know. Whether you are in a gallery or an artist’s studio, be picky. Ask questions. If you’re going to spend the money, make it count. You feel unsure? Don’t buy it! You’re in no hurry, and believe me, the artist is used to it. Can’t stop thinking about the piece a week later, a month later? Make the call and put a hold on it. Visit it again, bring your significant other or trusted friend. Still unsure? Don’t buy it. Gotta have it? Congratulations! You now own an experience you can enjoy everyday! Now on to that other wall in your house.